What We Lose if We Sell Off a Wildlife Refuge

UPDATE: Due to tremendous pressure – including more than 20,000 NWF activists who spoke out to members of Congress – the sell-off of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge was taken out of the Puerto Rico debt legislation on May 19th.  This irreplaceable wildlife safe haven will remain in public hands for all to enjoy and access.  Thank you to our friends of wildlife who took action!  Please take a minute to send a thank you to Congress for making the right decision.

Some members of Congress want to allow the sale of thousands of acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico, transferring its land to the government of the territory, leaving much of the refuge at risk of being sold to the highest bidder.

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting site for the endangered green sea turtle throughout all of Puerto Rico.

This move to sell off pristine beaches, important habitat, and coastal landscapes within 40 miles of populous communities has sparked a wave of opposition from wildlife proponents, outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen alike. The refuge – protected for and publicly open to all Americans – provides essential habitat for wildlife and is treasured by the people who call Puerto Rico home.

Stand in solidarity with Sociedad Ornitologica Puertorriquena, the National Wildlife Federation’s affiliate in Puerto Rico to protect this public land.

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is part of a life-giving network of national public lands across our country that are central to safeguarding wildlife habitat and our natural world. In this case, they also provide the backbone for the island’s vital tourism economy. The refuge attracts more than a quarter million visitors annually who spend money on lodging, food, transportation and merchandise.

A small group in Congress wants to sell part of the refuge to help pay off Puerto Rico’s billions of dollars of debt. But, realistically, the money raised by selling Vieques would barely make a short-term dent in the current economic crisis. Instead, what it would do is further a wrongheaded, reckless quest to dump, sell and dismantle our national public lands legacy – a legacy built by foresighted leaders who realized and appreciated the unmatched natural riches of our open public lands and waterways.

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by SUFWS
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by SUFWS

The 17,771 acre Vieques National Wildlife Refuge belongs to all Americans and helps conserve wildlife and wild places that enrich us all. As Congress considers HR 4900, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, we could be facing the beginning of the divestiture of the wild lands, fish and wildlife habitat, national parks and other public lands that make up an important part of our national heritage.

The sale would trigger a domino effect, putting at risk millions of acres of public wild lands, stretching from the snowcapped peaks of Colorado to the rolling sagebrush covered hills of Wyoming to the sandy shores of the North Carolina Coast. It would set us on a course to lose our public lands, the habitat they provide for a myriad of wildlife species, and our uniquely American outdoor traditions.